Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying: “Take care of your dentures and your dentures will take care of you.” Well, maybe it’s not that old—but it’s still a sensible notion. Maintaining your dentures by routinely cleaning them and having them checked for fit will improve their longevity.
There’s one other thing you should include on your maintenance routine—avoid wearing your dentures 24/7, especially while you sleep. This bad habit could lead to some unpleasant consequences.
For one, wearing dentures continuously can accelerate bone loss in the jaw that eventually causes your dentures to lose their comfortable fit. Bone loss is a natural consequence of tooth loss because the bone no longer receives the stimulation to grow transmitted by the teeth during chewing. Dentures can’t transmit this stimulus; what’s more, the pressure they place on the gums and underlying bony ridges could make bone loss worse. You can relieve this gum pressure at night by taking them out.
Dentures can also become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi that cause disease, irritation and unpleasant mouth odors. Taking dentures out at night deprives these microorganisms of a prime opportunity to carry on business as usual—and it’s also a great time to clean your dentures. People who sleep with their dentures in their mouth are more likely to have gum or oral yeast infections and higher levels of proteins produced by white cells that increase inflammation. That could contribute to other diseases throughout the body.
Besides taking your dentures out at night, you should also practice other daily hygiene tasks. Remove your dentures after eating and rinse them with clean water. Brush your dentures daily with a soft-bristled brush and dish or antibacterial soap or dental cleanser (no toothpaste—it’s too abrasive for denture surfaces). Be sure you clean your gums and tongue every day too. When your dentures are out, store them in clean water or preferably an alkaline peroxide-based solution.
Removing your dentures at night and these other good habits will help extend the life and fit of your dentures. It could also help keep the rest of you healthy.
If you would like more information on denture care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleeping in Dentures: A Habit that Can Cause Health Problems.”
Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates knows how important it is to present your best face to the world — and one of the most important features of that face is a beaming smile. But there came a point when she noticed something was a little off. “I've always had good teeth, but it seemed to me as I was getting older that they weren't looking as good,” Kathy explained in a recent interview with Dear Doctor magazine.
That's when she decided it was time to take action. Kathy had orthodontic treatment when she was in her fifties, and she keeps her smile bright with tooth whitening treatments. She uses a kit provided by her dentist with a safe, effective whitening solution.
Of course, a bright, healthy smile looks great anywhere — whether you're on the red carpet or “off the grid.” And you don't have to be a Hollywood star to have professional whitening treatments. In fact, teeth whitening is one of the most popular and affordable cosmetic treatments modern dentistry offers.
The basic options for professional teeth whitening include in-office bleaching or take-home kits. Both types of dentist-supervised treatments offer a safe and effective means of getting a brighter smile; the main difference is how long they take to produce results. A single one-hour treatment in the office can make your teeth up to ten shades lighter — a big difference! To get that same lightening with at-home trays, it would take several days. On the plus side, the take-home kit is less expensive, and can achieve the same results in a bit more time.
It's important to note that not all teeth can be whitened with these treatments. Some teeth have intrinsic (internal) stains that aren't affected by external agents like bleaches. Also, teeth that have been restored (with bonding or veneers, for example) generally won't change color. And you can't necessarily whiten your teeth to any degree: Every tooth has a maximum whiteness, and adding more bleach won't lighten it beyond that level. Most people, however, find that teeth whitening treatments produce noticeable and pleasing results.
What about those off-the-shelf kits or in-the-mall kiosks? They might work… or they might not. But one thing's for sure: Without a dentist's supervision, you're on your own. That's the main reason why you should go with a pro if you're considering teeth whitening. We not only ensure that your treatment is safe — we can also give you a realistic idea of what results to expect, and we will make sure that other dental problems aren't keeping you from having a great-looking smile.
How often does Kathy Bates see her dentist for a checkup and cleaning? “I go about every four months,” she noted. “I'm pretty careful about it.” And if you've seen her smile, you can tell that it pays off. If you would like more information about teeth whitening, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Important Teeth Whitening Questions Answered” and “Teeth Whitening.”
Dental implants are considered today’s premier method for restoring missing teeth. Obtaining an implant, though, is often a long process and the implants themselves must be surgically placed within the jaw bone. Nothing to worry about, though: implant surgery is a minor to moderate procedure akin to a surgical tooth extraction.
Still like any surgery, this procedure does involve cutting into the soft tissues of the gums and could allow oral bacteria to enter the bloodstream. While most bacteria in the mouth are harmless (and even beneficial) a few strains can cause disease. For some people, especially those with certain heart conditions or joint replacements, this could potentially cause serious issues in other parts of their body that might be highly susceptible to infection.
To guard against this, it’s been a long-standing practice in dentistry to prescribe antibiotics to certain high risk patients before a procedure. Although this departs from the normal use of antibiotics for already occurring infections, due to the circumstances this has been deemed an acceptable measure to prevent disease.
In the past, the categories of patients for which preventive antibiotics were appropriate had been more extensive. In recent years, though, both the American Dental Association and the American Heart Association have adjusted their recommendations. Today, your dental provider may recommend antibiotic pre-treatment if you have a prosthetic (artificial) heart valve, a history of infective endocarditis (inflammation of the inner linings of the heart), a heart transplant or certain congenital heart conditions.
While physicians may still recommend premedication with antibiotics for patients with joint replacements, it’s not as blanket a standard as it might once have been. It’s now only recommended for certain cases, such as patients who’ve received a prosthetic joint within the last two years.
There’s still an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of antibiotic pre-medication. However, there’s evidence medicating before procedures with antibiotics can be beneficial in avoiding infection. If you fall into one of the categories just mentioned or are concerned about infection, feel free to discuss with your dentist if using antibiotics before your implant surgery is wise move for you.
If you would like more information on antibiotic treatment before oral surgery, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Implants & Antibiotics: Lowering Risk of Implant Failure.”
Each year, over a million Americans venture abroad for healthcare, with roughly half for dental treatment. Cost is the main reason — “medical tourists” believe they can save substantially on treatment, even with travel.
But before undertaking such a venture for dental work, there are some things you should take into consideration. For one, although quality care exists all over the world, you’ll also find different standards of care. In the United States, for example, not only must dental providers graduate from accredited schools, they must also pass state examinations before they can practice (specialists even more). In some parts of the world, educational standards aren’t as difficult to attain. You may also find differing standards for infection control, drug applications or appliances: for example, you may find a lower quality in implant or crown materials or craftsmanship than you might expect in the U.S.
Communication can also be an obstacle. Language barriers make it more difficult to understand what to expect before, during and after a procedure, or to have your questions answered. It may also hinder your provider from fully accessing your medical and dental history, which could have an impact on your treatment and outcome. Limited communication also increases misunderstanding about services offered, charges and treatment expectations.
Finally, many dental procedures have multiple phases to them, some of which normally span several months and visits. Many who go abroad for more complex procedures may try to have them performed in a much shorter time frame. Doing so, however, could prove disappointing both in the quality of the final outcome and your own well-being under such an arduous schedule. Even if your dental work is performed in an exotic locale, recovering from extensive procedures where you must rest and refrain from strenuous activity is best performed in the comfort of your own home.
It’s important to get the facts before traveling to a foreign country for any medical or dental treatment, especially about a region’s accreditation and care standards, as well as what you can expect in terms of amenities and culture during your stay. One good source is the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s web page for medical tourism (//goo.gl/75iWBk).
Going abroad for dental care is a big decision — be sure you’re prepared.
If you would like more information on dental treatment abroad, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental & Medical Tourism: It’s No Vacation.”
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